The number of students in higher education in the United States was 20.3 million in 2010, or roughly 5.7% of the entire population of the US, and each and every one of them needs housing somewhere, so there is currently a tremendous opportunity in the provision of off-campus student housing.
And yet since 1978 state spending on higher education has decreased by 40%, and there has increasingly been a trend towards the families of students and the students themselves paying for ever higher percentages of both their college tuition fees, and the accompanying living expenses, and so budgets are tighter and students are becoming choosier in the standard of housing that they are willing to accept.
Despite the conflicting demands of needing housing, but having tight budgets, the good news from a marketing perspective for Property Managers is that a February 2012 study by Nielsen of 20,000 mobile phone consumers showed that in the core 18 to 24 age group that forms the bulk of students in the United States, that even in the lowest income bracket of under $15,000 a year, 56% had a smartphone, and overall income brackets 62% had smartphones, with 8 out of 10 new phone purchases in the last three months being for smartphones.
The reason that this is significant is that it serves to illustrate how technology can bridge the marketing divide between Property Managers and Students when attempting to rent out off-campus units and how it is now possible to more closely target 18 – 24-year-olds using mobile technology.
One problem that has traditionally faced property managers who are looking to rent out student housing is that the demographic is notably hard to target through traditional marketing mediums.
The 18 – 24 age range spends just 7% of their free time watching television, 9% of their free time consuming content online, while 20% of all their content consumption in 2011 was consumed using a mobile phone according to a survey by Nielsen.
This makes mobile phones a great way to immediately ratchet up the viral marketing of your off-campus housing that is primarily aimed at this demographic.
Drawing Together Traditional Marketing and Technological Marketing for Off Campus Student Housing
One big issue with student housing particularly is that the location of your property is even more vital than normal to how successful you will ultimately be at renting it out.
The closer your house is to a campus the easier it will be to rent.
That is common sense, but what is less often considered is that most Universities have multiple mini-campuses because buildings can be spread over a wide geographic location, and so you need to stop trying to target all of the students at a college, and instead start to target the faculties that lie closest to your property.
Accordingly, the first technology that you should be using is to visit Google Maps online or the website of the particular college where your property is located and print out an exact campus map to start working out a specific plan of attack for your marketing campaign.
For example, here is the campus map for Harvard – http://map.harvard.edu/
It immediately becomes clear when you look at that map that certain schools are located at the periphery of the campus. The Law and Engineering School is at the North most edge. The School of Design is in the South East, and the School of Education is in the West.
The significance of this is to plot where your own property that you are managing is in relation to the Faculties at your own College, because before you can sort out a whizz-bang technological solution you need to know who it is exactly you are targeting.
If your property was located to the West of the Harvard Campus for example then you should start off by targeting the School of Education for the flyer campaigns I will describe in a moment, because immediately the close vicinity to the place where all of the students lectures will take place becomes a major selling point to your advantage, and you will already be starting to differentiate your property from the competition.
If you have a number of properties in one location and you have identified which faculty building are closest, then you should pursue a strategy that combines technology with more traditional types of marketing.
Firstly, you need to think a little outside the box, because simply putting up leaflets with tear off strips of paper with your mobile number on them all over the nearest faculty building is a little “1990’s” and you also really want something that is going to grab the eye, leverage technology and get your accommodation rented out as soon as possible.
The statistics have already clearly told us that whilst 62% of students in the 18 – 24 age bracket (your primary customers) already have mobile phones, that 8 out of 10 of their new phone purchases will be smartphones, and that 20% of their content consumption will be on mobiles. So this is an age bracket where smartphones are both objects of desire and an everyday necessity.
New iPhones and iPads launch regularly, and so any Property Manager that is targeting the student housing market should be leveraging the high desirability factor of these to rent out the rooms in a unit quickly, rather than having to wait around for students to choose between twenty competing off-campus housing units.
The first thing that you should do is to create a QR Code that can be embedded onto any flyers that you give out, or place in relevant advertising such as the Student Newspaper. A QR Code is a two-dimensional barcode that you may have seen popping up on cereal packets, coke cans and other places.
You can read more about them on Wikipedia here – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/QR_Code
This can be read by smartphones like the iPhone and immediately passes messages and web links to the phone.
This sounds very geeky, but in fact in the USA in an average month over 14 million QR Codes are scanned in mobile phones and the storage capacity of the codes is constantly expanding, so ever more complicated messages are now possible.
Your target audience of 18 to 24-year-olds knows what QR Codes are, even if you don’t!
There are a number of ways to have the codes themselves created, but you can do it yourself for example for free at any of the following websites:
It is really just as simple as typing out a message and clicking ‘Create!’ on any of these sites.
They will then create an image which you can download and have printed on flyers or posters for distribution.
You will want to experiment with various messages that you embed in the QR Code, because this is your opportunity to really hit home about the benefits of your property, or whatever other marketing message it is you want to communicate to the students.
So play around with those different free services that I have described and create at least 12 variations of codes that you should then scan into your phone, and get other people in your family, office or friends to pick out the good and bad points of, before finally adapting and settling on two that you like best to use in the campaigns that you can initially split-test against each other to see which produces the best results.
It MUST have a call to action in it somewhere that invites the student to call you for more information, but beyond that what you say is going to depend on the features and benefits of the particular property whilst being careful to really talk to the core demographic of 18 to 24-year-olds who are your customers.
Remember, ideally they want somewhere that is 30 seconds walk from the campus, costs ten dollars a month and has a fitted Jacuzzi! And so whilst you are unlikely to be able to give them exactly what they want, remember when writing the copy for the QR Code that you are talking to an 18 to 24-year-old, and not a married 60-year-old man, so your style of communication needs to be looser and less stiff.
The headline in big red letters on the flyers could be for example:
“Win a Free iPhone”
You could then go on in the leaflet to explain about your accommodation and its many features and benefits, and how they can go into a draw to win an iPhone for free simply by taking your leaflet and getting twenty of their friends to scan the code.
To track the codes and how they are being scanned you can use this website:
You can also offer a bonus draw for a new iPhone if students take the code and scan it onto their Facebook and Twitter accounts to start to follow your property business.
In this way not only will you be getting the students to do your promotion for you, but you will also ensure that you have the ability to contact them whenever you like through their social media accounts.
The students will be drawn into participate even if they currently don’t need accommodation, because of the promise of a free iPad or iPhone, but inevitably even the ones that just want the freebie will need accommodation next year, or the year after that and you will have been marketing to them through Facebook and Twitter for all that time about the benefits of the properties that you have to offer near to the campus.
Plus, because you are building in the viral element of them having to scan in the property details in the QR Code to multiples of their friends you are greatly increasing your chances of your properties details finally arriving in the hands of a student who does currently need accommodation, or is considering a change.
To entice those hot prospect students to contact you, you should offer any fully signed up year’s contract a reward of a free iPhone or iPad.
This all sounds expensive, but the reality is that for the promotion itself you are only giving away one iPhone because the deal is that participants are only going into a draw to receive one. Plus one iPhone each for any student that commits to a year’s accommodation.
According to the Harvard website, for example, the average cost of rent in Off-Campus Housing for a Harvard Law School Student was $1179 a month in 2011, and so a year’s worth of rent is worth $14,178 to the average owner of an Off-Campus Property in the area. If the accommodation is any good then there is a good chance they will stay for their entire college stay, so the financial upside is in fact potentially far greater even than that.
Balanced against that is that the cheapest iPod is currently around $500, which represents a less than 3% new client acquisition cost for the Property Manager.
You would make it a condition in the housing contact that they would sign that if they left before the end of the year that the cost of the iPad would be taken out of their deposit, and so there would be no fear of them signing up simply to get a free iPad.
The key factor with leveraging technology to reach students is to remember that they care very little about property or housing units until they actually need it. For 90% of the time that they are at college any messages that you send them on Twitter or Facebook will be ignored if you try to hard-sell them on your units, and so you will generally need to combine some kind of inducements to get the 90% of uninterested students to tell the 10% who are interested about the accommodation that you have available.
With this demographic, “What’s in it for me?” has never been more relevant, and as long as you approach your marketing with that in mind, keep it low key, fun and friendly then reaching the small number of students who will be interested in what you have to offer in the way of off-campus housing at any time, will be made considerably easier and smoother.